Go Big by Going Home

A big project must have a big vision.

Facebook Home isn’t the kind of thing you approach by looking at what you’ve already built and saying, “Hmm, how can we make some improvements?” On the contrary, this was a project with a strong vision put forth by Mark to “make the content that people want to see—new messages and notifications and updates about the people around you—as accessible as possible.” Eventually, this came to mean “a news feed-like experience on the lock screen” and “the lock screen and the home screen are one and the same.”

Give designers the room to dream.

I'll let you in on a little secret. The Chat Heads feature was actually conceived of originally by Joey and Brandon prior to Facebook Home, in the context of something else they were working on at the time. Nobody asked them to design Chat Heads. Nobody went up to them and said, “Hey, please put together some design ideas for how we might build a lightweight, simple chatting interface on mobile.” Nobody handed them a spec or rattled off some guidelines for what they should do. No, the idea for Chat Heads came about because those designers saw a problem—chatting on mobile devices is hard—and they had the space and freedom to do something about it. Being in the early phases of their respective projects helped—theirs was an environment of exploration, when things were still ambiguous and crazy blue-sky ideas were encouraged. Having periods like that when designers can have the freedom to explore and dream up kind-of-out-there solutions is essential for good design ideas to flourish. If you are always executing on a week-by-week roadmap and running the product development process like a bootcamp, it’s likely you will get some optimization wins, but full-blown new concepts are not usually born from those environments. There needs to be time for both an execute-and-optimize strategy in design, as well as room and space for more creative, bigger-picture solutions.

You don't design something like Facebook Home using Photoshop.

I touched on this point earlier in How to Survive in Design (and in a Zombie Apocalypse), but something like Facebook Home is completely beyond the abilities of Photoshop as a design tool. How can we talk about physics-based UIs and panels and bubbles that can be flung across the screen if we’re sitting around looking at static mocks? (Hint: we can’t.) It's no secret that many of us on the Facebook Design team are avid users of QuartzComposer, a visual prototyping tool that lets you create hi-fidelity demos that look and feel like exactly what you want the end product to be. We’ve given a few talks on QC in the past, and its presence at Facebook (introduced by Mike Matas a few years back) has changed the way we design. Not only does QC make working with engineers much easier, it’s also incredibly effective at telling the story of a design. When you see a live, polished, interactable demo, you can instantly understand how something is meant to work and feel, in a way that words or long descriptions or wireframes will never be able to achieve. And that leads to better feedback, and better iterations, and ultimately a better end product. When you are working on something for which the interactions matter so greatly—in this case, a gesture-rich, heavily physics-based ui—anything less simply will not do.

The Year of the Looking Glass

A collection of essays by Julie Zhuo on design, building products, and observing life.

Thanks to Mike Sego.

    Julie Zhuo

    Written by

    Product design VP @ Facebook. Author of The Making of a Manager https://amzn.to/2PRwCyW. Find me @joulee. I love people, words, and food.

    The Year of the Looking Glass

    A collection of essays by Julie Zhuo on design, building products, and observing life.